Healthy students, healthy futures

Children line up in a green field in front of a water tap. In the foreground a girl washes her hands.
Thanks to the generosity of our partners and donors, these students now have access to clean, fresh water. This in turn has helped improve attendance. Photo: Zenegnaw Adimtew / Partners in Education Ethiopia.
Written by Colin Zak, published on September 8, 2023 Sign up for eNews

Every parent wants their child to be safe, happy and healthy at school – Abichikili Secondary School is no exception. 

It’s one of five schools across Ethiopia’s state of Amhara where the attendance rate for girls decreases each year due to inaccessibility of clean water and bathroom facilities. 

“Students had to walk for more than 15 minutes to get water from surrounding households. Many would not return to classes after that,” says the school’s principal, Yingesu Meshobiaw. “In the past, when girls felt that their period was setting in, they used to jump over fences and go home for lack of facilities.”

In 2022, in partnership with Partners in Education Ethiopia and the Peter Gilgan Foundation, we launched a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) program at Abichikili and four other primary and secondary schools in the state, bringing locally-accessible water to more than 9,000 students. 

The project has also helped improve school attendance, particularly among girls, who make up more than half of the student population. Before the project, upwards of 10 students were absent from class for a full week each month, often falling behind in class. 

“Water access is vital for everyone. Water sources on school grounds allow for community gardens, which promote a different kind of learning and responsibility of nutrition – for students and adults alike,” Yingesu adds.  

Local access to fresh water allows people to wash their hands, faces and clothing, prevention transmission of diseases, including blinding trachoma, which is a key cause of vision loss and blindness across sub-Saharan Africa.

Our teams took a variety of approaches to bring water to the schools, including drilling boreholes to access groundwater, digging trenches and installing water supply lines, and setting up storage tanks, faucets and appropriate drainage.  

Faculty and community members received training to maintain their water infrastructure and test water quality. Twenty-one female teachers also received menstrual hygiene training including how to create reusable sanitary pads using local materials. 

“Having a water supply line has changed our school for the better,” Yingesu says. “Girls started using the facility the day it opened, and attendance rates have increased tremendously.”

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